There was a time when Fogline Vineyards co-owner Evan Pontoriero was no wine geek. Like a lot of us, Pontoriero bought wine at the store to go with dinner, and that was that. Then one day, a colleague invited him to help pick grapes in Geyserville for a home winemaking hobby. When he smelled the aroma of fermentation steaming from the vat, everything changed.
"It was just like in Ratatouille," Pontoriero says, "when [Anton Ego] tastes the stew and it brings him back to his mother." Pontoriero was brought back to memories of his grandfather, who always made a little wine in his garage in Pennsylvania. Pontoriero, too, became a home winemaker and confirmed wine geek who has, for instance, an opinion on the Dijon clones of Pinot Noir. With business partner Brent Bessire, he made the jump into commercial winemaking in 2009 after leaving his job at Pixar.
Yes, I said, "after leaving his job at Pixar." As a computer animator, Pontoriero worked on Star Wars at Skywalker Ranch, and on the 2007 computer-animated hit Ratatouille at Pixar. It's an enviable career, but the downside was sitting behind a computer for years on end. With one hit of grapey ferment, Pontoriero says, "it's like I'd found home."
After a few peripatetic years in custom crush cellars, Bessire and Pontoriero got a tip on a long-vacant winery with an interesting history and crazy good visibility, just off 101. Some may remember this as the Farmery, an organic produce stand in the 1990s; it was built for Fulton Valley Cellars in 1984, with Joseph Swan's Rod Berglund as winemaker. Now it's owned by a neighboring church, and Fogline set up shop in 2014.
The partners also planted an estate vineyard situated at 850 feet on Sonoma Mountain, just where the fog tops out—hence, the name. The 2014 Zephyr's Block Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($38) was barrel-fermented with a strain of malolactic bacteria that does not produce the byproduct diacetyl, which lends many Chardonnays that characteristic "buttered popcorn" aroma, and gives Pontoriero a headache. The Zephyr's Block has an appealing aroma that suggests lemon flower honey, and shows up a lot of the so-called no-oak Chardonnays.
Scented like orange peel, with a red cherry savor that's brightened by citrusy acidity, the 2012 Hillside Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($65) is joined on the roster by darker, lush Pinots from purchased fruit. Sweet-toothed Zin lovers are welcome, too, with the 2014 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel ($35), while the experimental 2015 Flora may leave you thirsty for more.
Fogline Vineyards, 875 River Road, Fulton. Open daily, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $10–$15. 707.636.4415.